For the second-straight year, the South Tama County baseball team improved its performance on the field and it showed in its win-loss record.
The Trojans jumped from three wins in 2011 to 15 in 2012 to 20 this summer. South Tama baseball was a threat to any opponent it faced this year. The Trojans' season didn't end the way the players or coaches wanted, but they recalled the season and distributed awards at the annual postseason banquet last month.
"It was a very successful season," head coach Seth Koch said. "They always have to come to an end and it didn't end the way the kids or coaching staff wanted it to end. In this game, anything can happen."
South Tama finished the season with a 20-11 record. STC lost its final game to Clear Creek-Amana 7-2. It was the first round of the Class 3A District tournament. The Trojans struggled defensively as they committed five turnovers, which led to six of the Clippers' runs in the defeat.
Despite the early postseason exit, South Tama was awarded one player on the All-District team. Senior Sam Kuhter was named Second-Team All-Pitcher after his start against the Clippers. Kuhter allowed only six hits and one walk during his five innings on the mound. He was presented his certificate at the banquet.
The other two awards, aside from varsity letters, distributed at the banquet were All-NICL (North Iowa Cedar League West Division) and All-Academic NICL. Six Trojans made the All-NICL team, while eight were honored for their academics, too.
STC and NICL West winner West Marshall each had four players selected to the first team. For STC, they were senior Kaleb Davenport (outfielder), sophomore Grant Koch (first base), junior Kolton Smith (utility player) and Kuhter (pitcher). Sophomore Dalton Doyle earned second-team honors as a pitcher and senior Noah Bearden was named honorable mention behind the plate as catcher.
The Trojans also fared well in the academic honors. A player must earn a varsity letter and maintain a 3.3 GPA to earn an All-Academic NICL award. The eight Trojans were junior Drake Cherveny, junior Nate Hala, Bearden, Kuhter, senior Landon Mathes, Smith, senior Kyle Stephenson and senior Clay Waterbury.
STC head coach Koch reviewed the Trojans' season at the banquet. Before the season, the players ranked team goals.
"I set four goals aside and I had the kids rank them at the beginning of the year," Koch said. "They were winning a conference championship, be district champs, win 20 games and the last was for the seniors and that was beat Grinnell in something this year. Winning 20 games came third. For them, being conference champ was second, narrowly beat out by being district champion. I thought we had some lofty goals set from the beginning, but some goals that were very achievable."
The Trojans finished runner-up in the NICL West behind West Marshall, after splitting games with the Trojans from State Center. However, STC was swept by third-place East Marshall. STC finished 11-3 in the conference.
South Tama won four of its first five games to begin the season. Then STC faced a tough BCLUW squad at home and was nearly the victim of an upset.
"I thought the turning point in the season came a week earlier in the BCLUW game at home," Koch said. "We are down 7-2 going into the fourth inning. We have our backs against the wall. We aren't hitting the ball well and we were a lot shaky defensively. We come back and win that game 9-8 in nine innings. That's a testament to these kids. That pulled us together as a team. I thought that gave us some momentum going into the rest of the summer."
The Trojans later went through six-game and four-game winning streaks. They also hosted a wild game against West Marshall. It was an exciting pitcher's dual, but was stopped twice for lightning delays after heading into extra innings. Action was finally stopped in the 10th inning after West Marshall scored four runs in the top of the inning and broke a 3-3 tie. The game was later made up in State Center, where West Marshall won the postponed game, but STC won the second game of the night.
"For those of you who were at that West Marshall game, I've been around high school baseball for a long time and I've never been around something that crazy," Koch said. "That game could have gone either way.
"If you ask the kids for a couple highlights, I think they would pick the two wins over Newton," he said. "We go down and beat a 4A school. Then the next week, they come up here and we knock them off."
South Tama beat Newton 6-3 on the road behind a complete game from Grant Koch on the mound. Two weeks later, Kuhter pitched a complete game win as STC beat Newton at home, 2-1.
At the end of the banquet, coach Koch talked to his team about next year. The Trojans will lose six seniors from this year's roster, but still return a strong core of starters in 2014.
"I told the kids this during the season and I hope they realize that a lot of the success they had this year was due to a lot of the work they did in January through April," Koch said. "We asked them if they are a pitcher or catcher, they need to come in two days a week and throw the baseball and not for very long, maybe 30 to 45 minutes tops. That has to continue. We have five of our eight pitchers coming back next year and it's crucial that we do the work in the offseason.
"There are probably more answers about the lineup for next year than we had this year," he added. "There will be some surprises like there were this year."